Supersize me: does bigger and wider actually mean better?
To be more accurate, this is actually a secondary standard which relates mainly to tire width, which is applied to the two most popular wheel diameters today – 27.5-inch and 29-inch. In simpler terms, a 27.5-inch wheel with rims that are 45-55mm wide, wearing a tire with a stated width of at least 2.8-inch, shall hereby be called 27.5-plus (27.5+). Effectively, because of the increased volume, it gives the same rolling diameter as a 29-inch wheel fitted with a 2.3-inch tire. A 29er wheel with a tire of at least 2.8” will be called 29-plus (29+). However, this is less common (at this time, at least), and the few 29+ tires marketed today have a much lower side, so the increase in diameter is less extreme and closer to the original diameter of 29-inch wheel with a regular tire.
What’s the big deal with width, you ask? We already saw extra-wide tires before – the monstrous Nokian Gazzaloddi 3-inch tire from the early 2000s, for example. Well, the bottom line – just like with the Gazzaloddi – is the same: traction! Indeed, you do not need a doctorate degree in physics to comprehend that a 3-inch wide tire produces traction superior to almost any other. Hence, it (usually) makes for good flow on challenging and technical terrain, improved tracking capabilities and as a result of both, seemingly high levels of fun. Of course, we must remember that the whole attempt is new and is still in development, and therefore is at the hands and interpretations of manufacturers. It also depends on the designated purpose of each bicycle – from touring and bikepacking cycles, through All-Mountain/Enduro rigs to hardtails with a well-defined purpose – fun.
I consider myself a person/rider/journalist with a generally open mind even to quirky genres and products. Yet I must admit that when I first heard about the Plus standard, it appeared to me no more than an extra-fat marketing gimmick. A few months later I happened to be invited to the unveiling of new Specialized models in Austria, where I first experienced riding with the new standard wheels on the Specialized 6 Fattie, in the immaculate conditions of bike park Leogang. And I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised – the 6 Fattie were for me the highlight of the event, and which were the most suited for it.
Admittedly, the 6 Fattie I test-rided were the elite S-Works model with a full-carbon frame, fitted with high-end components, as well as a five-digit price tag. To this we must add optimal ground and weather conditions, and with trails pointing mostly downwards – all in all, they were not submitted to an altogether rigorous test. Riding the 6 Fattie was an amazing experience, which got me – and other participants – thinking how well it will hold up in less than pristine conditions.
In recent years, when other, earlier standards were introduced to the MTB realm, most manufacturers tended to wait and see which way the wind blew before integrating them into their own products. Unlike those cases, the new Plus standard quickly became popular among many brands in the United States and Europe. Among them was Mondraker, whose brashness and ambition in penetrating the conservative European barrier and squeezing into the list of leading world manufacturers we already covered in the past. So it was only natural that the Spanish brand would be among the first to dive into the realm of Plus size mountain bikes.
The Crafty, which bears the name of the previous and excellent 29-inch model, effectively replace it in Mondraker’s product line this year. Although most of the 27-plus frames will also be 29-inch compatible, Mondraker does not officially offer this option. The design underwent some revisions, and aside from the requisite Boost-standard hub that are a must with Plus size wheels, the travel was increased to 140mm in the back and shortened to 140mm up front. The geometry was also tweaked to accommodate a shorter top tube, and the chainstays were chopped down from 445 to 438mm. We got to review the Crafty RR test to understand whether indeed all the commotion is justified.
• Plus 27 wheels with 3-inch tires.
• Mondraker’s Zero Suspension System offers 140mm of travel
• Fox fork with 110 mm Boost standard, provides 140mm of travel
• Aluminum “Stealth” technology frame, rear pivot with 148x12mm Boost standard
Frame and suspension
A few years ago the Spanish company recruited Cesar Rojo – probably the Latin counterpart of Dave Weagle – a designer and type of groundbreaker in the European bike market. Mondraker engaged in continuous development of its products, led by an exclusive geometry design developed by Rojo in collaboration with Fabien Barel (before he left for Canyon), dubbed Forward Geometry.
The idea behind the complex title is fairly simple: a top tube elongated to approximately 30-40mm more than the current norm, and use of extra-short stems in order to “compensate” for the gap and produce Reach (the horizontal distance between the bottom bracket and the handlebars). The advantages, according to Mondraker, are numerous: the front wheel is located “further ahead” and therefore provides increased confidence during steep sections; the elongated wheelbase increases stability at high speeds; and the ratio between the length of the chainstay and the top tube keeps the front wheel glued to the ground even on steep climbs.
The Crafty line is made of “Stealth technology” aluminum, which is meant to provide optimal weight and stiffness for each part and joint of the frame. Like every Mondraker full-suspension bike, the Crafty also utilizes Rojo’s Zero Suspension System, which is essentially the Spanish version of a virtual pivot with two short links, coupled to a “floating” rear shock which produces a constant movement of the shock with the suspension, and not against it, in order to add depth to its travel.
What parts stand out?
The new Crafty comes in two specification layouts. We got to test the higher of the two, the Crafty RR. Like most bikes offered by the Spanish manufacturer, here too the component selection was sensible and logical, so as to remove the need for any substantial upgrade in the future (except for the wheels, an issue which we’ll address below). Standing out in front is the Fox Factory 34 with Kashima coating, which complies with Boost-standard axis-width of 110mm to offer 140mm of travel. The new 34 series by Fox generally leaves a great impression every time we ride it. We can’t attribute it entirely to the Boost standard, but either way the Fox 34 is noticeably stiffer. On the rear end, Mondraker equiped the Fox Float X EVOL with the new air canister. The drivetrain is based on Shimano’s 11-speed XT-level components, which was mated to an Race Face Aeffect SL crankset with a single 30-teeth chainring. Together, they kept the chain safely in place.
The generic Mondraker wheels have relatively heavy 40mm wide rims on Boost-standard Mondraker hubs. They get 3-inch Maxxis Chronicle tires with a surprisingly low weight of 860 grams, which means the high overall weight comes, we suspect, from the wheels. This is the Crafty RR’s Achilles’ heel, and if something needs upgrading in the bike’s excellent spec, it is without a doubt the wheelset. The 1,100 gram inner tubes must be ditched before you leave the bike shop. SRAM’s Guide R brakes did an excellent job, providing good modulation while stopping this semi-trailer, while remaining pleasantly silent. A Rockshox Reverb dropper post, wide bars, and a short stem complete this excellent component list which, in our opinion, requires no real changes.
On the trail
Beyond the relatively brutal look that the fat tires give the bike, the initial sensation – already when lifting the bike on the rack – is bulk weight. The Crafty RR 27.5+ are anything but lightweight, but a quick diet in the form of conversion to tubeless tires immediately shed off 1.1 kg(!) off the bulk, and leveled the scales at 15kg (with pedals). In light of our experience with Mondraker’s unique and particularly long geometry, this time, as well as with previous models we tested from the same manufacturer, we chose to take a frame one size smaller than the company advises.
Despite the peculiar initial feeling, we bonded with the Crafty RR relatively quickly. A leisurely first trip highlighted the extreme width of the tires and the bike’s overall weight. When it comes to riding on fireroads on the way to local singletrack, the fat tires produce rather high rolling resistance. More importantly, however, they fail to maintain the natural inertia of large diameter wheels. One long climb was enough for us to understand that any attempts to produce sustained inertia à la 29-inch wheels are futile. Instead of fighting it, we found it is better to sit, settle on a relatively low cadence, and crawl your way up.
In contrast, technical singletrack climbs are a cause for celebration – the place where it’s worthy of all superlatives. The feeling is that suddenly much less energy is required to overcome short walls or technical elements interfering with your ascent. The wide tires coupled with the superior geometry and the excellent traction provided by the Zero Suspension glue the wheel to the ground, eradicate all obstacles on the trail, and make the Crafty resemble a tractor that leaves all other standards way behind.
One of the main advantages of wide tires is the ability to ride at very low tire pressure, which supposedly translates into extra traction. But this approach, which discusses traction at pressures of 12-16 PSI and is disseminated primarily via marketing briefs, is not in our opinion applicable to full-suspension bikes. At such low pressures, we experienced excessive tire smearing, and especially unwanted tire springiness – a type of double bobbing, one from the suspension and one from the tires. After some trial and error, we set the pressure to 19-20 PSI, which eliminated the nagging bob and kept the tires stable.
The relatively heavy feel of the bike on wide trails disappears entirely when you point the Crafty’s nose downwards. Shortly after entering a nice singletrack, the comprehension settles in that this bike clings to the ground and does not plan on letting go. Rojo’s brilliant geometry, Mondraker’s excellent suspension design, and especially the traction – oh, the traction! – increase (de facto) the confidence envelope of the rider, causing him to push harder and faster. Each segment of the descent which allowed us to maintain inertia (i.e., steep enough…) felt more fun, much quicker, and also much less challenging. This was especially true on several violent, technical singletrack trails, where the combination of wide tires, a suspension design able to run over anything, and the excellent 34 Fox fork up front, works up real magic. Despite the oversized dimensions and weight, the Crafty felt anything but cumbersome: it soared through the air with easy, felt sharp, responsive and fast on any path we put them through, and believe us that we did not hold back anything.
Reviewing the newly designed Mondraker Crafty was one of the most intriguing tests we conducted recently, as it raised a large number of discussions among our staff. The new wheel standard turns a lot of heads, but also causes much controversy regarding its actual necessity. On the one hand, the Crafty we tested excels on the descents, technical challenges, and in providing the necessary fun factor. Indeed, they expand the performance envelope of any technical rider. On the other hand, they are marketed as the modern All-Mountain rig, a type of “One Bike”. As such, and just like the previous generation of Crafty bikes, they do not adequately bridge the gap between pedaling abilities and performance on the descents, as the unwritten rules of AM riding dictate. When it comes to performance off the singletrack, the fat 3-inch tires make the Crafty cumbersome, produce too much rolling resistance and bleed off inertia, and especially force the bike to a sluggish beginning before reaching the first few slopes.
This review is not a test case for the new Plus standard, because the Crafty, just like the new standard, deserves more time to evolve and improve. Both have distinct advantages but also shortcoming to be addressed. At the moment, the situation looks like a sort of feasibility study on the part of manufacturers, and hence the large gaps in perception regarding the correct designation of this interesting sub-standard. There is no doubt that in the near future we will see a larger choice of tires and rims offering more reasonable weights (and not just on the elite models), which will dramatically reduce the rolling resistance and improve performance outside the bikes’ comfort zone.
So is the Plus standard going to uproot and supersede other existing and well-entrenched standards in mountainbiking? We find that is unlikely at the moment. However, Plus will no doubt stick around and will continue to evolve to interesting places.
|Specs (for Size M frame):|
|Top tube length||640 mm|
|Chainstay length||438 mm|
|Suspension Platform||Zero Suspension System|
|Weight (incl. pedals & sealant)||31.9 lbs|